According to the popular myth (and a million hucksters selling marketing services), the path to millions is as easy as throwing up a web site and selling stuff online. Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Sure, launching a site is not all that hard. But creating a successful e-commerce business takes a lot of work. And that begins with a lot of careful pre-planning. The good news is that, if you get it right, the promises of e-commerce are grand. And they are growing: By 2021 e-commerce sales will approach five trillion dollars. Below are some steps to take before you start contributing to this statistic.
Find A Clearly Defined Niche
If you’re considering launching an e-commerce business you probably have a general idea for a category or a type of product. Whether you will be making your own products or retailing other brands you need to do plenty of market research before you begin. The more refined the niche the more focused your store will be, and the more successful you will be. If your idea is simply to sell clothes or food you won’t get very far. Those are general categories that are already very crowded with big name retailers. But selling vintage Air Jordans or cheese handmade in the Wisconsin Dells are examples of specific niches within large, general categories (shoes and food). Another strategy is to pick an emerging sector. Sites that sell macha tea or an online headshop that sells luxury smoke accessories are good examples of this.
Take Care Of The Pre-Launch Details
Before you launch your ecommerce business, you’ll need to take care of some housekeeping details. Thus, many of the first steps are sorting through the logistics. Start by doing the following:
- Find a unique business name and then purchase the domain for this name.
- Design and trademark a logo
- Find a merchant service provider so that you can accept credit cards.
- Create an LLC or some form of legal business entity. This can be done with an attorney or via a service like LegalZoom
- Begin preliminary investigation into product suppliers and shipping partners
Secure An E-Commerce Platform That Will Meet Your Needs
In this day and age there is rarely a need to create an e-commerce web site from scratch. There are many online platforms that allow you to pick a theme and get started with relative ease. Most do not require any knowledge of coding (though customization will require some coding and some web design). Below are three well know e-commerce platforms to consider.
- Shopify: Shopify is one of the biggest platforms out there because it’s relatively affordable and it has a lot of features. In fact there is an entire app ecosystem of plug ins that allow you to easily add features and elements to your site. Shopify is great for a new business, but it’s also used by large retailers (including Tesla and Red Bull).
- WooCommerce: WooCommerce is an open source plug in for WordPress, which is one a terrific content management tool. If you are already using WordPress it’s a great tool to create a store with. Like Shopify it is purpose built for e-commerce, and it features the most robust content/blogging tools because of the affiliation with WordPress. It is also noted for having excellent SEO tools.
- Squarespace: Squarespace is a design centric platform that allows for very elegant and minimal web sites. If you are going to be offering a limited number of products and skus it may be a good options. It does not offer the level of integrations and plug ins that the other two platforms do, and it is not a good choice if you are going to be offer more than 40 items. But if you have a small boutique idea that relies on a well-designed site it’s an option worth considering.
One thing to remember: Your web site is you storefront. It’s your corner of the shopping mall. It’s your real estate. As such, it’s one of the most important assets you have. But it’s also something that will be ever evolving. Don’t get too bogged down in perfectionism when launching or you will never launch. If it’s 80 percent there it’s ready to launch.
Engage In Pre-Launch Social Media & SEO
Once you have settled on a name and domain you should establish a presence on all of the major social media channels. When possible use the same handle (ideally the same as the domain name). Begin populating these channels with content, and establish a presence. It will take a good six months to get traction (in terms of followers) on Instagram and Twitter. But keep at it. It’s also a good idea to add your business to Yelp, Yellow Pages, business sections of the major search engines and other directories. This results in an increased digital footprint and it begins the important step of building backlinks to your main site, which is a crucial part of SEO. If you are schooled in the art of building backlinks via content creation begin doing this. At the very least you should establish a blog and begin creating content. Your content should aim to answer the questions your customers will have. For example if you site sells bongs and glass pipes articles on how to select the right bongs will generate prospective leads AND be seen by Google as authoritative content.